Processing the Life and Loss of Anthony Bourdain

Chef and storyteller, dead at 61.

By Cory Garcia June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain, gone but not forgotten. 

Anthony Bourdain, the world-famous chef, traveler, and storyteller, is dead at age 61. The cause of death was suicide. Those are the facts, simple in their truth. Everything else is devastatingly complicated.

It was still early in the day as I started to write this and already the internet was full of words on Bourdain, from the listicles of great quotes to the deep remembrances. I can only imagine how that number will grow over the days to come, and all of them will have some sort of value, if not to readers than to those writing them, dealing with the complex feelings that come with the loss of someone you didn’t know personally but still felt you knew intimately. 

Bourdain touched so many folks, whether he was opening their eyes to the greater world of food and travel, inspiring them to become a cook themselves, or having them sit down and consider issues of social justice they might have looked past before. The Children of Bourdain are many, and whether he inspired you to pick up a pen, chef’s knife, or a protest sign, he will be missed.

A tweet by John Berman really sums it up well, I think: “Here is the thing....just one of the things that makes this so hard and confusing. Everyone wanted to be Anthony Bourdain. I did. We all did.” 

Writing about Bourdain could take you in any number of interesting directions. You could talk about how the life he lived is inspiring because he proved that you can stumble early in life and still thrive later. You could talk about how few on television have done as much as he did to try to get Americans to see people from different cultures as something besides The Other. About how he taught so many to not be afraid to explore the fringes and not just what’s on the beaten path.

Consider his 2016 trip to Houston for Parts Unknown. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to hit our many fine-dining spots or just focus on the wonderful world of Texas barbecue. But Bourdain was ahead of the curve when it came to shining a light on the less well-represented parts of Houston food on a national level. How often did national outlets focus on Little India? Do you think about Congolese cuisine when you think about Houston? Both of those are things Bourdain wanted to share from Houston with the world, in addition to our love of candy paint. Not only was this focus good for the city as a whole, but it brought in new guests to the establishments he visited, helping those small businesses. For Bourdain, Houston was "...a wonderland of the strange and diverse." 

But his life is only part of the story.

There are no simple answers when it comes to depression and suicide. There never will be. Today you’re going to read a lot of people’s thoughts on what you should do if you’re struggling. What worked for them, what they think will work for you, what they’ve been told they should say, what comfort they think they can offer. At the same time, the number of people committing suicide is likely to spike; a story put out by Time earlier this year looked at a 10 percent increase in the number of suicides after the death of Robin Williams in 2014. 

Last night, right before bed, I watched the trailer for a new documentary on Williams HBO is putting out later this year. What struck me then, and what struck me this morning when reading about Bourdain, was how these two individuals looked like they were so full of life. They, along with the recently passed designer Kate Spade, had success beyond what most of us could only dream of, and yet.

Hotlines help for some but not for all. Letting people know you’re there to listen is important, but part of living with depression is dealing with the fear of reaching out. If you can carry the emotional labor of being there for those in need, let them know you’re there, but also reach out to those in your life to let them know you care, and not just those that seem sad. As this week proves, depression cares not about how much money you make or how exciting a life you live. And when you’ve done that, maybe talk to your elected officials and tell them we need to get serious about funding mental health resources. 

Because people matter. Bourdain knew that. One of the simple truths we all know is that an okay meal with great people will always be better than the best food with the worst folks. Food is just what gets you to the table and talking. He could have sat down with anyone in Houston, but he chose to visit with Slim Thug and students at Lee High School who had recently immigrated to the area. He knew we were a melting pot, and one of the best ways for us to come together is over a meal. Despite his “bad boy” reputation, Bourdain cared a hell of a lot about a lot of things, because caring is cool. Remember to care about those around you. And remember to take care of yourself.

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